Many religions, but only one Gospel (Pt. 2)

As we talked about in part 1 of this post, persecution will come. It’s inevitable. Preaching the good news of Christ to a world that has rejected it is bound to cause tension.

But what happens if we give in to the persecution? What happens if we dip our toes in the water?

What happens if we stray from God?

Before you continue reading, I want you to ask yourself a few questions. Be honest with yourself. Ready?

  1. Have you ever pursued something of worldly desire?
  2. Have you ever chosen something that was obviously a bad decision?
  3. Have you ever strayed from God?

I ask these questions as a demonstration that we all have done something at some point that was in the opposite direction of where God wanted us. We’ve all made mistakes. We all fall short.

But do you think that the amount of things that you’ve done wrong is too vast and overbearing for an all-powerful God?

Do you think that there isn’t anything that can be done?

Absolutely not!

First and foremost, when looking at how much that you have done in your life that stands out against God, it’s important to remember that God has the ability of taking us out of our deepest and darkest sin, and bringing us to Him and into His light.

Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us a clear and concise definition of how our paths are made straight. In essence, these 2 verses “sum up” the nature of God.

He’s simply asking you to not lean on your own understanding. Not to pursue the things of this world. Not to depend on yourself or turn from him.

He simply wants us to turn to Him in an intimate pursuit of a relationship.

Forgiveness is a free and open gift to anyone who genuinely repents.

Trust me. I too have strayed from God in my past. I pursued so many different things, and sought happiness in things that weren’t of Him.

But, by His grace, I can tell you that when I look back at it, my life now is FOREVER different by my choice to follow Him. If you would have asked me 2 years ago what I’d be doing, I never would have told you that I’d be where I’m at.

God’s plans for you are bigger than yours are for yourself.

If God is for us and we are for God, who could ever overcome us? 

I absolutely love Isaiah 41:10, because it shows just how much God wants us.

He wants the absolute best for you, and has given us every ounce of His love because of His great desire to have an intimate relationship with you. His love has no bounds, no depths, and no restrictions.

His love is eternal.

Even when we stray from God, by His grace we have the ability to come back to Him and be granted forgiveness.

Take a look at Peter and how many times he denied knowing Jesus (Found in the Gospels). He denied knowing Jesus 3 different times, and Jesus even told him that the rooster wouldn’t crow until that took place.

Imagine the look between Jesus and Peter when he denied knowing Him the final time.

Imaging what must have gone through his head when that rooster crowed.

Imagine the feeling of denying the One who is about to die for you, in order to not be persecuted.

We all have sinned. We all fall short.

But, let me ask you this. How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved Him? (Found in the Gospels, i.e. John 21:15-17)

Jesus demonstrates here that even if we have given into persecution, even if we have strayed from God, there is always hope if we turn back to Him.

No matter what you’ve done in your life, how far you’ve strayed from God, or if you’ve given into persecution, God’s grace and mercy will always be enough to cover you if you turn back towards Him and repent.

You have the opportunity of knowing exactly what God wants for you, you simply just have to trust Him.

Don’t be afraid of persecution. Don’t be consumed with worldly standards.

Stay faithful to God, and He will guide you where He wants you.

As Paul says in Philippians,
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Be bold as you go out. Be prepared to give a testimony to others about what God has done in your life. Don’t let fear of persecution or temptation mislead you from God’s path for you.

 

Blessings and Aloha,
Austin Wood

 

 

 

Many religions, but only one Gospel (Pt. 1)

For starters, my apologies that I haven’t posted on here in quite some time. July was a crazy busy month! We had short-term teams, events, and even worked at a camp in the South of France!

At this camp, I had the opportunity to preach for the first time ever. The theme for “ZeCamp” was “Nowhere else to go” based on John 6:68. The passage paints a vivid image of how true followers of Jesus Christ understand that only He is the truth. Only He has the way of Freedom, and what I spoke on [hopefully] reflected that.

Being my first time giving a sermon (I actually gave 3 for the duration of the camp), I wasn’t necessarily sure how it was going to go. I didn’t know how what it was going to be like. What it was going to feel like. What direction and words the Lord would speak through me. But by the grace of God, I discovered something that I love to do!

The first message that I gave reflected how we as Christians are going to inevitably be persecuted. How suffering for God is better than being successful according to this world. How if we are rooted in Him, there is nothing that can separate us from His great love.

The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” How much clearer could this image be?

It seems to me that some have forgotten that we, as Christians, have been tasked with spreading the Gospel and God’s truth to a world that has rejected it. Seriously. I mean, look at what the world teaches us to be of value. That dream job. That perfect house. That car. What ever it may be.

Now if you own any of those things, I’m not saying you’re doing something wrong. Not in the slightest. God presents us opportunities and paths in life, and your future is affected by the choices that you make now.

What I’m saying is this: Even if you are blessed with these things, you cannot and must not forget who blessed you with them. He literally gives us everything that we need. Think of the story of the lepers in the Bible. How 10 of them were healed, but only 1 came back to Glorify and Praise Jesus for the miracle that He gave to them.

When you live for a worldly standard, your fight is not with the world, but your rebellion is against God.

When you live against God and rebel against Him, you’re bound to face persecution.

In comes 1 Peter 3:17. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Take a moment to reflect and think about what some of your hardships have been in your life. What persecution and trials have you faced since you decided to pursue God?

John 6:68 paints a picturesque moment where we are told that only the Lord has the words of eternal life.

The words of eternal life have an eternal impact on our lives.

Don’t choose to live according to the standards of this world. Don’t be conformed to the ways of rebellion against God. You have the answers to everything that you could ever need. The instructions of how you ought to live. Simply put, these are all found in the Bible.

Romans 8:35-37 tells us “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

I love this passage as it vibrantly shows that if we are rooted in God, nothing can keep us from reaching Him.

We know that the path of following Christ is difficult. We know that it will lead to hard things and difficult choices, but with endurance with being faithful to the Lord we overcome our burdens and have the ability to serve Him in capacities that we never thought possible.

There is no other way to salvation.

There is none like Him.

His words eternal. Overcome the world through faithfulness to Him.

 

(Keep reading for part 2!)

 

Living in an International Setting

A lot of people always ask me, “What makes Paris so different? So unique?” A lot of my explanations can be summed up in a rather simple way – it’s a hub for so many unique and differing cultures.

Looking and thinking more and more about it, I think that there’s a total of at least 20 nationalities that usually converge here in Paris. There’s something about this city that draws people from all corners of the globe, and having so many people here allows for a greater understanding of different cultures and their ‘norms’.

A few weeks back ago, at one of our English conversations, we stumbled upon the topic of “What do people stereotypically about your culture?” Being 1 of only 2 people from the United States in a group of more than 15 – with others being from countries like Tunisia, Algiers, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Vietnam, and a couple French – the conversation undoubtedly became a little interesting.

There was somewhat of a unanimous decision that people think that Americans stereotypically have no interest in learning about other cultures in the world, and only want to change people to be conformed like them. This was followed up with a, “but the people who work here at Genesis don’t fit that mould.”

At first, I had to really analyse what was being said, as I hadn’t really thought too much about what certain cultures believe to be true about Americans on a deeper sense. At this point, I had the thought to respond in a way similar to their stereotypes.

I discussed how if that was true about the American culture, what was true about their own culture?

In layman’s terms, I asked if they had any interest in actually learning about the American culture, or if they just wanted to impose their own cultural practices on everyone else.

They couldn’t respond.

It wasn’t until one person from Algiers spoke up and said, “hmm, I’ve never really thought about that.”

In recent months, our conversation groups have been able to go more and more in depth with more intense topics, which has allowed for more growth, trust, and outreach happening here in the city.

Looking at it in hindsight, I think that by having the mentality of trying to understand a culture more, and not simply shutting them down due to their mentality, is an amazing way to build trust between people and foster a deeper level of trust.

As I’m writing this, I’m having the images of televangelists run through my head with their over eccentric personalities running rampant as they step on toes and push their argument with everything they’ve got. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not all like this, but that’s the stereotype of them that runs through my head.

Here’s my question to you all – what if we approached all our relationships and possible encounters with love? What if we actually, as a Church body, actually acted like Jesus and ‘hung out’ with the undesirables? What if we put aside our stereotypes, and instead spent time getting to know someone and their life? What would happen?

In my personal walk, I believe that the Holy Spirit is with me, and I have His light shining through me. Our intentions here, and really as Christians on a global scale, are to have people see God at work in us in an effort to have them wonder what sets us apart and where our joy and hope come from.

I’d encourage my readers to be more open to reaching out to those who people don’t normally associate themselves with. Be more willing to engage the members in the community that have been cast out. Be open to what the Bible tells us – Mark 2:17.

This isn’t to say to follow the ways of sinners, or to accept counsel from them. It is instead saying that if we are to truly evangelise and spread the Gospel, and make disciples of all nations, we will eventually need to encounter someone who is not yet a believer.

My challenge to you all this week is make a new relationship, and build on it to the point that you’re able to speak into their lives and share the Gospel with them.

Pray for discernment. Wait for His response. Be open to what He says. Go boldly.

Blessings y’all!

 

Austin

Something I’ve Been Pondering

So these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking to myself more and more about one question. One thing that I’ve been working through, and trying to develop an explanation as to why I answer the way that I do.

The question? How would I respond if God were to look down at me, while He was seated on His thrown, and ask me if I would be willing to take the spot of someone who did not know Him, so that they could enter His Kingdom and I would inherently receive their punishment.

Now I know that this is not how it works, and everyone is responsible for their own actions, and must be held accountable for what they do. And I’m certainly far from perfect, let alone being a worthy sacrifice on behalf of someone else. But what if God were to ask this of me?

In this last week and a half, I’ve been trying to open my eyes more and more to see how God wants me to be, what He wants me to do, and how He wants His mission here in France lived out.

I had a great discussion with my fellow bearded Irish friend – Mally McLoughlin – about inspiration vs. aspiration, and this relates so well to the original question.

Inspiration, or to inspire, is defined as being able to fill someone with the urge, or ability, to do or feel something. This is related to how we can make others feel, but it leaves out a key element – Hope. 

Aspiration, or to aspire, is defined as just this. It’s to direct one’s hopes or ambitions towards achieving something. In other words, it’s living by example to give others the ability to see something different within you, and having them aspire to something greater.

In comes Faith in Jesus Christ.

When people who haven’t yet come to know Jesus see the way that we as followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to live, we are actually aspiring them to direct their hope towards Jesus.

When we lay down our lives, desires, and pride, and take up our crosses to follow the Lord, we are reflecting the true Light into this world.

Brennan Manning writes:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

How are we going to be a witness to our community, and reflect Jesus’ love and light, when we deny Him by our lifestyle?

How can followers of Jesus be anything but overwhelmed by His great love?

Let that sink in for a few.

How can each of us be living a better life for God, and not be content with mediocrity?

Now, time to go back to the original question I posed.

My immediate response was that I would, without hesitation, lay down my life so that others could live. But it wasn’t until I really thought about it that I understood why.

I believe that my soul purpose, along with every other Christian, is to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We were literally created to Worship the Lord. Now Jesus modelled how we should live, what we should do, how we should treat others, and what it means to love your friends. He took this so far as to laying His own life down, being a PERFECT sacrifice, and showed how far He is willing to go for us to know Him.

Now, while my sacrifice would be anything but perfect, I feel that it does represent something. It represents how far I am willing to go to bring Glory to God.

Don’t read too far into this, and think to yourself, “is he comparing himself to God and saying he could be a worthy sacrifice?”

I’m absolutely not.

God is infinitely more than I will ever be.

What I’m saying is that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be ready to lay our lives down if it is for God’s glory. We should be ready to give everything we have, everything we are, and everything we’d like to be, just to give glory to the One who’s love has no bounds. We should never stop trying to bring Glory to Him who created us.

He loves us infinitely more than we could ever imagine, and more than you or I could ever exemplify. All He wants is for us to come to know Him.

Just some food for thought.

Blessings and Aloha,

Austin

 

Helping Those Around Us

Being in an international setting and working with the International Church gives you a little bit of a different perspective on things. It not only gives you a little more insight into what’s happening around you, but also gives you a look at the needs of the community from a different perspective. Our main mission with what we do out here, and as Christians, is to help people Meet the Lord, Grow in the Lord, and Share the Lord. My approach to this is to help out in any situation that I encounter, with the hope that people will in turn see the Light of God shining through me. With that being said, I had an amazing experience happen a few nights back that was obviously God at work.

After our Catalyst group had concluded and we were getting ready to head back to our apartments, I realised that my normal train line that I take was finished for the night, and that I’d need to find a different way back to my neighbourhood. I left Genesis and walked up to a different station, to find a man on crutches struggling to go down the escalator, and another man trying to help him along. I called out to the guy helping him to see if they needed any help – I think I actually said “Ça va mec?” (kind of like you alright mate?) – to have him retort with a look of “No, I could really use some help right now.” I walked up to the two to lend a hand with getting him safely onto the escalator, when a third man saw that we could use some more help and walked over to us. After one of us was in front, on the side, and in the back, we safely got him down the 2 escalators and flight of stairs to help him get to his train. The gentlemen and I who were helping him out were able to have a little bit of a conversation as we were lending a hand, and they were asking about what I do here and joking about how I look like someone who wouldn’t normally stop to help – surprise!

I was able to talk about how I work at the Church and Genesis, and help people practice their English as well. The original man who was lending a hand had to leave to go to his platform, but as he was leaving he turned and said to me “God Bless.” It was pretty awesome! Following this, the other man wanted to know more about what I did at the Church and Genesis, and I found out that he was also a musician who worked at a jazz club here, and wanted to work on his English. I invited him to Genesis, and he seemed really stoked on being a part of what we have going on. He then left, and it was just the man on crutches and myself.

We walked over to the train, and after helping him on, he then said that he wasn’t actually French and wanted to switch to English if that was all right with me. We began having conversations about what we did in life, and he began to talk about how he lives on the streets and doesn’t have a job. It was then that the conversation naturally flowed into Faith and what I believe, and this is when I was able to share Christianity with him.

We talked more and more, and as I was helping him to get out of the train station, I had an urge to ask him if he’d ever accepted Jesus as his Saviour. I asked him about what he believed, and eventually got to the question of whether or not he had ever proclaimed Jesus as Lord and believed in his heart that God raised Him from the dead. Without hesitation he looked at me and said, “He is. I believe.” I asked him if that was his first time ever saying it out loud, and with a tearful eye he nodded his head and said yes. At this time, we had made our way out of the train station and were up all the flights of stairs, and I had to leave to go catch my final train home. Before I left, however, he let me pray for him and I was able to give him my rain jacket to keep him warm and dry. It was nothing short of amazing to say the least.

This entire situation was a great reminder to me, that no matter where we are or whom we are with, we are called to be ready to give a testimony of God in our lives on a moments notice. God has all of us exactly where He wants us, and puts us in every situation for a purpose. Without missing my train, I wouldn’t have had to go to the other station. Without engaging with the man helping him, I wouldn’t have been able to start a conversation. Without starting a conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to reflect the Light of God into all 3 of their lives. Without reflecting the Light of God, I couldn’t have been able to lead this man to the truth of Jesus Christ, and he would have still been wandering in his sin. It’s amazing to see things like this happen first hand, and a true testimony to how great things occur when you simply listen to God. Wherever you are in the world. Wherever you are in your walk. When you listen to God and abide in Him, He has tremendous things for you to do alongside Him.

Approaching Missions

When I first moved to Paris, I wasn’t necessarily sure as to what to expect as far as cross-cultural ministry. I’d been overseas before, having lived in multiple European cities, and having traveled to Africa, but I hadn’t yet been a part of an established ministry center.

After being here seven months on the ground, I can tell you that my approach and viewpoint of cross-cultural ministry has completely shifted. God has continued to show me time and time again how He wants to shape the culture over here, and what I can be doing to come alongside Him in His plan for here.

Before embarking on your internship, my advice would be to prepare yourself in every way possible before getting on location. Here are a couple ideas of what you might want to do to prepare yourself for your internship.

1.    Prepare to be stretched in ways you thought weren’t possible. Cultures operate in a different way than what you’re accustomed to, and having an open mind and willingness to try new approaches will always open doors.

2.    Understand that you’re not coming to do your mission; you’re coming alongside the Lord and His mission. Your motives and mindset should reflect this.

3.    Get into the practice of being regularly in the Word and in Prayer. Spending time daily with the Lord will help your relationship with Him grow. A firm commitment from you will only help to further your intimacy.

Once you’re on the field, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.    Don’t become over-focused on your goals, to the point that you tune out God and what He is trying to tell you just so you can achieve what you want to. By doing this, you not only ignore God, but ignore why He called you to join Him on His mission.

2.    Your time on location is not about you. Not about what you can tell others you have accomplished. Not about elevating yourself above others. Approach it with humility, and make sure you do everything you’re asked to do to the best of your abilities.

3.    Remember to respect the Sabbath. Take that weekly time to explore God’s wonders and beauties, and you’ll find yourself trying new and exciting things, not only resting, but gaining a deeper understanding of how God is at work across the globe.

Whether you’ve been called to serve overseas, in the States, or where you currently are, we are all His servants. When you walk out your door in the morning, you need to be ready to give an account of what He has done, regardless of your position on a map. Faith is the first step that we make within ourselves, and our Faithfulness is what’s seen on the outside – what sets us apart from the crowd. Regardless of what is happening in the world, God has amazing plans for furthering His Kingdom, and living boldly in our daily lives will help make that difference.

Easter Sunday

Let me start by saying that I absolutely love Easter time. The attitudes of everyone, believers and non, just seems to be all around chipper. Easter, here in Paris, is referred to as Pâques (pronounced like ‘pack’ for those of you wondering).

My day started out great! I had a pretty busy week and weekend thus far, and was sure that Sunday was going to be a great celebration.

The past 2 Easters, I’ve played the Easter ‘Sonrise’ Service for Kailua Community Church at zero-dark-thirty on the beach, so stepping away from it was rather different. Admittedly, I missed waking up before the roosters, and going to meet up with the Worship team on the beach. There’s something about seeing so many people gather in a place together to celebrate this marvellous event that is utterly indescribable. Getting to play worship on this day was something that I will always love and remember.

When I arrived at Trinity, I wasn’t necessarily sure as to what to expect. Would there be a larger Church congregation than normal? Would it be smaller? To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing the entire service went off.

I decided to not play this year for Easter, just so I could focus more on the worship and message, and not be over-focused on all of the other things that needed to come together to do the service the right way. Sometimes, it’s good to take a momentary ‘step-back’ from your ministry to be reminded as to why you do it.

The worship was amazing. The focus of all the songs was how we are alive because He is alive. How we are redeemed because of what He endured. How we have redemption because of His great sacrifice. How we are able to celebrate, because He is alive and well in Heaven pleading for us.

The message was amazing. We talked about Thomas and how he was doubting the resurrection, and how he said he wouldn’t believe it to be so until he was able to touch the wounds with his own hands. Once he saw Jesus, however, he knew that he was alive and well as Jesus told him to come and do just as he stated he needed to in order to believe. Truly, a great message from Pastor Al.

Service concluded with a few baptisms, where 3 men openly declared their faith and were able to undergo this representative demonstration in front of the whole Church body (See the above photo).

Baptism is such a beautiful thing to me, as it is an open and blatant declaration of your faith in front of the body of believers. It reminded me of my re-baptism back in Africa, and how it is such an amazing feeling to declare your Faith publicly in Jesus Christ.

After our service concluded, I had to go up to Gare du Nord (station of the North for the non-French readers) to pick up my sister and brother-in-law, as they were arriving from London. They’ll be here for a week, and I’m really looking forward to getting to spend some time with them and catch up with where they are in their lives. They’ll also – hopefully – get to see some firsthand ministry things that I’m involved in here in France, and see how the Gospel is being shared out here.

This week is shaping up into a really busy one – as I’m booked just about every minute of every day this week. When thinking of this week at a glance, I’m reminded of how I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and am really stoked for all of the ministry work that I’ll be helping with this week. Bonus points if you can name that verse without looking it up!

I hope to do another post sometime this week, but we’ll see what it shapes up to look like!

I hope you all had a Joyeuses Pâques, and are continuing to celebrate that our King is Risen and alive!

Until next time!

Blessings and Aloha,

Austin Wood